Youth Conference Pakistan 2017
Looking Into The Future Conference - Connor MacFadyen
Upon entering the Central Cathedral of Praying Hands in Lahore you are met by a 100ft painting of Christ ascending, but you are also met by light. I am a great believer that all faiths and denominations should work together but it was not until I heard Great is Thy Faithfulness sung in Urdu that I truly realised how much our faith transcends all borders, and how our unified love for God and Christ should not divide us - but bring us closer together.
A Desire to Travel
When I first saw the trip to Pakistan advertised I immediately jumped at the chance to apply. I was surprised when I was chosen to go on the trip and my mother wasn't too pleased because she did not think it would be a safe place to visit. I did some research; the home office clearly advised against all travel to the country. But I was calm, I had a Deacon friend of mine tell me it was one of the greatest places he had ever been. And so after some visa problems and flight mishaps, we arrived safe and well. And I was right - I have never been to a country with such accommodating and welcoming people before in my life. Pakistan was a truly remarkable place.
The purpose of the trip was to bring together the Christian youth of the Church of Pakistan. The conference was much like our own National Youth Assembly with debates, small groups and morning bible study, but the topics were very different.
The first topic was interfaith relations. Discussed in an unhostile environment such as our own these conversations can be positive and create strong working relationships. When discussed in an environment where being a Christian is illegal and has resulted in the deaths of many; it certainly provides a new perspective on the topic. The delegates and clergy at the conference prayed for peace and reconciliation and to unite as people of faith. A belief we can all get behind. I feel it must be emphasised in light of our own events and those experienced at the World Communion of Reformed Churches, that there were supposed to be over 25 nations represented at this youth conference but only ourselves and the American delegates were granted visas, surely a sign that peace and reconciliation needs to be found.
Women in Ministry Discussion
The second topic I'm going to highlight is one that shocked all the foreign delegates. I was stunned. Women in Ministry. The Church of Pakistan will celebrate 50 years since its formation in the coming few years. Yet, women cannot be Ministers of Word and Sacrament. I remember before I went, thinking that surely women in such a young denomination shared the same rights as all – I was very wrong. The American delegates found the whole situation very frustrating and got quite angry. Chris and I, though stunned, were aware of the situation we in the Church of Scotland experienced some 50 years ago and were intrigued by the discussions.
However the debate did not go the way that the bishops (many felt they had to apologise to us) were hoping. In a vote of the assembly the vast majority of the 150 delegates voted against the idea of allowing women into the ministry. This was fascinating to me for many reasons, firstly it taught of the differences in culture, never before had I experienced such division and you could say discrimination. Secondly it was difficult for me to observe because I have had three ministers in my time as a Christian, two of whom were women, and I have only ever had a female district elder. It's an experience I will never forget because of the sadness I felt for the deaconesses and the bishops who had longed to take to their General Assembly a vision of hope for Women Ministry. It will come in time however, I am confident of that.
City of Sialkot
The day before we were due to depart I was invited to visit the area of Sialkot by Bishop Samuel, where the Church of Scotland had its base in the country and is still remembered today. It was a fascinating experience, not least because the car didn't have seatbelts, which was new. Despite issues in the area the Church of Scotland is still actively engaged in many areas of outreach and education and I have never been made so welcome in my life. The people were interested to know of people who had visited before and they rivalled the Church of Scotland in tea offering.
But my favourite part of the whole experience was meeting Ms Nichol, or Mother as they call her. Catherine Nichol is a Church of Scotland missionary who has been in Sialkot running the school and many other projects for over 40 years. She's 85. She is such an amazing women, her faith in God was extraordinary, her work ethos, working every day for the church and the school and looking after the girls and staff that pass by her way was admirable. She showed me around the church built by the Church of Scotland (though much extended now) and spoke fondly of her friends whose plaques adorn the walls, showing me the pulpit inscribed with the names of all the ministers and missionaries carved into it. The last time Ms Nichol came home, to Scotland, was in 2000. I then asked her if she was coming back again or if she would consider coming home permanently, she laughed and pointed to a river – that's where she wants to be buried. A true messenger giving her life to the work of God.
The Christian faith and denominations transcend all borders and all political spectrums, we are not restricted in our Christian family to just those within our own man-made borders. We are one big family. Yes we are complicated but whose family isn't. We still love each other, and we need to remember that more. That is what I learned from this amazing opportunity and experience.
"For God so loved the WORLD that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life".
John said the world, not a state.